Surface Pro as a Tablet

If you can get over the bulk, Surface Pro is easily the fastest tablet on the market today. Apple has done a great job of making relatively slow hardware feel very fast with iOS, but Surface Pro brute forces its way to the top. Web pages load quicker than on any ARM based tablet and multitasking is just awesome on the device. This is where the power of Intel’s Core microarchitecture really comes into play.

Since the introduction of the 3rd generation iPad with Retina Display several folks have pointed out to me that UI frame rate isn’t always so smooth on the device. I personally never noticed because I found that most of the competition was even worse, so it always seemed relatively smooth to me. After playing with Surface Pro however and going back to even the 4th gen iPad all of the sudden frame rate stutters are much more noticeable. Playing around with Bing maps on Surface Pro vs. RT is like night and day. Even if you compare scrolling and zoom performance to native iOS maps on the iPad 4, Surface Pro wins out.

Scrolling in web pages, application install time, file copy time, everything is just significantly faster on Surface Pro than on any competing tablet. Oh, and it boots (from full power off) in less than 10 seconds. It’s really the combination of the great CPU performance and fast SSD that deliver the responsiveness of the Surface Pro.

We’re still lacking good cross-platform performance tests, but there are a few browser based benchmarks that I can use to highlight just how much faster Surface Pro is compared to anything ARM based on the market today:

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9.1 - Stock Browser

SunSpider is our tried and true quick js benchmark, and here we see huge scaling as we move to Intel's Core i5. Regardless of browser used you're seeing a significant improvement in performance that directly translates to faster web page load times.

Moving on we have Kraken, a seriously heavy javascript benchmark built by Mozilla. Kraken focuses on forward looking applications that are potentially too slow to run in modern browsers today. The result is much longer run times than anything we've seen thus far, and a very CPU heavy benchmark:

Mozilla Kraken Benchmark

Even when handcuffed by modern IE10 you're looking at almost twice the performance of the Nexus 10. Level the playing field with Chrome as a browser and now Surface Pro completes the test in a bit more than 1/8 of the time of the iPad 4, or 1/4 of the time of the Nexus 10.

Surface Pro manages to deliver almost 5x the performance of the iPad 4 here.

We have one last web-based benchmark: WebXPRT by Principled Technologies (PT). WebXPRT measures performance in four HTML5/js workloads:

Photo Effects: Measures the time to apply effects to a set of six photos. The filters are Sharpen, Emboss, and Glow. WebXPRT applies each filter to two photos. This test uses HTML5 Canvas 2D and JavaScript.

Face Detect: Measures the average time to check for human faces in a photo. WebXPRT runs this test on five photos and uses the average time to calculate the final result. This test uses HTML5 Canvas 2D to get access to photo data. The detection algorithm is implemented in JavaScript.

Stocks Dashboard: Measures the time to calculate financial indicators of a stock based on historical data and display the result in a dashboard. The calculations are done in JavaScript, and the calculated stocks data is displayed using HTML tables and Canvas 2D.

Offline Notes: Measures the time to store notes securely in the browser's HTML5 local storage and display recent entries. This test uses using AES for security.

We're reporting the overall score after all tests have been run:

WebXPRT - Overall Score

Next up are another set of benchmarks from PT, but unlike the WebXPRT suite these tests don't run in a browser. Once again we're looking at performance in a handful of tasks designed to stress the CPU. Here the performance advantage continues to be quite significant. While Surface RT and the other Windows RT/8 devices still feel a bit sluggish, I have no performance complaints whatsoever about Surface Pro:

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Slideshow

TouchXPRT 2013 - Podcast MP3 Export

TouchXPRT 2013 - Video Sharing

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Sharing

TouchXPRT 2013 - Photo Enhance

If I had any complaints about using Surface Pro as a tablet outside of weight, they’d be about Windows 8. There are still far too many bugs and quirks in the OS that just don’t make sense. I’ve outlined some of my issues with Windows 8 before. I think the UI works just fine for a tablet, it’s just the unfinished touches that need attention. For example, having to gesture in modern IE10 before being able to switch between tabs seems silly.

This still happens way too often in the Windows Store, no indication of what's going on just a blank screen

On the bug-front, all too often I’ll wake up the system only to have the lock screen upside down. And despite all of the extra performance under the hood, the time from when you hit the power/lock button to when something appears on the screen is just longer than on an iPad or Android tablet. We’re not talking several seconds, but it’s still noticeably longer.

The Surface Pen Surface Pro as a Windows 8 Notebook


View All Comments

  • Doominated - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    God forbid you have to play games just like

    oh my god

    every other device has to play games

    People that want to play battery killing games are obviously going to carry a secondary charger with them, as well as a halfway decent portable keyboard/mouse. This is a limitation EVERY "mobile gamer" would have to deal with, not just one who has a Surface Pro.
  • remain_insane - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    That is what I am talking about, not play touch based games, unless baldur's gate gets ported to windows 8. Or even carry an xbox controller with you when you are on the go! There are a lot of games that have seemless controller support(with other games that don't). You can even search steam for games with controller support. I am by no way implying that this is a gaming machine, but it will work quite nicely with the rise of a lot of indie games, and older games with controller support. A lot of games on steam backup save files to the cloud so you don't have to swap save files around from one machine to the other. This is just my 2 cents, sorry I was not as clear originally. Reply
  • sweenish - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    So, thought I'd chime in and mention the fact that most games require you to just click on the screen, and maybe use some hotkeys. But plenty of games are purely mouse driven, and for those, touch translates beautifully. Reply
  • Pfffman - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    Gaming benchmarks in general seem to have been missed, we could have some graphs and numbers.

    Still looking forward to the case where we can plug in a tablet a the end of the day to keyboard, monitor and mouse and just use it as a desktop. Almost could do it for this, just a bit cumbersome not to mention space management would be a pain.
  • PsychoPif - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    I agree. It's the only thing missing from an otherwise perfect review.

    I'm hoping that the Surface Pro get revisited as a portable gaming PC. I'm obviously not talking FPS, but League of Legend, FTL, and others would be games I'd like to play on the go.
  • Netscorer - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    If you want to understand a gaming performance, look at any ultrabook review. Surface is not going to be magically any different, except that you should not expect to go very far on battery alone and once you connect it to the charger, one of the biggest advantages of Surface (portability) vanishes.
    The Ivy Bridge CPUs come with Intel HD4000 GPU and it is OK for older games (2009 and earlier) and only on reduced resolutions and medium to low settings.
    My personal experience gaming on ultrabook:
    Skyrim - no go
    Fallout: New Vegas - on reduced resolution and minimum settings
    Bioshock - reduced resolution
    Medieval Total War - medium settings + reduced resolution
    Civ V - minimum settings, no need to reduce resolution (and it is touch friendly game, hurray!)
    Sorry, I don't play shooters or auto racers, so can not comment on these.
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, August 8, 2013 - link

    Skyrim is playable on the surface pro on lowest settings at 720p. plays pretty well given the limitations. Reply
  • oolzie - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    Baldurs Gate Enhanced works fantastically on these devices. Granted its' not "high end", but it definitely shows how cool a game like that can be on a touch enabled device. Give it time. Reply
  • Doominated - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    This review is, far and away, the best review of the Surface Pro I've seen of the 15 or so I've read. The other reviews all mostly regurgitate the same exact information; It runs fast, it has Ultrabook specs, it has "poor" battery life, it can't sit on your lap easily, It's too thick/heavy to be a tablet, so on and so forth, all the stuff we've known for the past TWO MONTHS.

    The only thing I felt was lacking between all the graphs about color calibration and wifi range and whatnot was how altering system settings would change your expected battery life. For example, assuming the battery tests were being done @ 1920x1080 with ~65% brightness, how long would the battery last if you turned it down to 1600x900 @ 40% brightness? How does the battery do with WiFi turned off? Can we expect significantly better battery life if we stay away from a desktop internet browser?

    Obviously, making compromises isn't supposed to be what the device is about, but I wouldn't mind doing a little bit of power management if it means I can consistently get 7-8 hours of battery out of it.

    Outside of that though, fantastic review. The WiFi speed chart blew me away; I would have NEVER assumed there was going to be that large of a gap. Really unique info in this review that other reviewers would have never thought of to work out, a lot of which is lowkey important in how the device is going to be used on a day to day basis.
  • Cygni - Wednesday, February 6, 2013 - link

    This is a clear compromise product. Awkward to use as a laptop, awkward to use as a tablet. You know what happens to compromise products? Well, just ask Microsoft with the RT they just released.

    They fail.

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